I am going to write this post as a personal exercise since reminding myself of all the ways, in which we can feed narcissists and preventing myself from doing it is a constant battle for me.
What is narcissistic supply?
In one of my earlier posts, I described how recovering from a narcissistic relationship enabled me to heal my childhood trauma and helped me emotionally and psychologically grow in ways I would have never expected that I was capable of.
The first part of this healing journey was learning about my own defence mechanisms and faulty patterns of behaviour, which I created to protect myself as a child growing up in a highly dysfunctional family.
The second part was about diving under the surface of human interactions and discovering how the invisible relationship dynamics and hidden agendas really run the show for us. Our understanding of this hidden world of interpersonal relations is key to stopping ourselves from constantly re-enacting the same situations and conflicts over and over again.
Most of us, unless we are committed to our personal growth and healing our inner incompletions, tend to seek to some extent energy from outside – it could be validation, approval, emotional soothing, feeling needed and wanted – anything that would make us feel better about ourselves.
Unless we are self-aware, we tend to look to outside sources to fill ourselves up with positive feelings rather than generating the happiness from inside. Most of us don’t do it in all areas of our lives but most do it in at least a few – and that’s the basis for unhealthy relationships. This invisible exchange of one person feeding the other person’s internal unmet needs is running the relationship dynamics that we live in. If this exchange of supply is interrupted, negative feelings come up. That’s the stuff that you feel when someone doesn’t like you or refuses to do what you wanted them to do.
The narcissists, however, takes this energy exchange on a totally different level. The narcissist runs on this external supply completely and has devised many resourceful ways how to garner it. He or she is totally dependent, or better say, addicted to it, which is the reason for their odd behaviours.
Positive supply: look how great I am
Some narcissists seek tonnes of positive supply. They could have extremely wide social circles of shallow relationships with people who never really get to know them but who are fed the narcissist’s awesome kind loving persona in exchange for validating the narcissist and stroking his ego. Narcissists might present themselves as saviours of people in distress (again only in superficial situations), to gain admiration and approval.
They may be focused on performance or looks, or other ways to make themselves feel superior to others, to gather this positive supply.
Negative supply: (S)he’s a crazy bitch
The narcissists that are less capable of generating positive supply would resort to garnering negative supply. Even the narcissists that are skilled at extracting positive supply (essentially in fooling people what awesome altruists they are) do need negative supply as well.
Negative supply is usually extracted from people who somehow triggered the narcissist (willingly or unwillingly), hurt their egos or threatened the narcissist’s version of reality (narcissists live in false realities). It simply might be someone the narcissist is jealous of or projects their inner shadow onto (narcissists disown their shadow, their dark side, and project it onto others. Because the narcissist subconsciously dislikes himself, he or she then dislikes the person onto whom they projected their shadow – you know the mind-fuck when they are accusing you of exactly the thing that they are doing to you? That’s a projection).
There are many ways how to extract negative supply. Spreading gossip and making themselves feel good by demeaning other people behind their back is the easiest way to go about it since it doesn’t require the narc to really expose himself.
But it gets worse. They would frequently choose vulnerable targets and try to passive aggressively demean them. They would try to push the target’s buttons and make them react to the narc’s passive aggressive behaviour only to totally blatantly deny having done anything if challenged by the target. They usually rightly sense, which target is reactive, and would focus on such a person to maximise the gains. They would manipulate others against the target, presenting their fantasy version of reality, in which the narc is the victim and the target is the perpetrator.
It sounds like a script from a bad movie but trust me, it does happen all too frequently.
It could be the emotionally abusive parent complaining to everyone who would listen what an ungrateful brat you are after you challenge his or her behaviour. It could be a narcissistic ex who discards of you without a second thought and starts telling everyone how desperately in love you still are with them when you start asking question about what happened in the relationship. It could be a work colleague that would deliberately ignore his responsibilities and when called out on that, unscrupulously deny it.
The problem is that the target is usually the only person aware of the narc’s sick games. Everyone else has heard the story that the target is somehow unstable, difficult, too sensitive, you name it. To the rest of the world, or at least to those that feed the narc positive supply, the narc is kindness embodied. He or she is exactly what those people want to see.
The target, on the other hand is frustrated, emotional, angry, upset. The target doesn’t understand how is it possible that despite his or her honest attempts to have a conversation about the situation, it is impossible to get anywhere. The narc doesn’t want to have such a conversation because he doesn’t want to resolve the conflict, which he or she has manufactured in the first place, to garner narcissistic supply. The more emotional the target gets, the more merciless the narc becomes, as he calmly points his finger at the target – you see, you are the problem, there is no problem apart from you and everyone agrees with me. You are the crazy one.
This ability to control, manipulate and extract emotional reaction from the target is the negative supply. The narc feels powerful, omnipotent, special.
Why does a narc need supply?
There has been quite a lot written by better experts than myself about why do narcissists need supply. Sam Vankin, an author and a psychiatrically diagnosed narcissist with an unusual ability to self-reflect, is probably one of the best sources to be found online. (Narcissists usually lack the ability to self-reflect and would totally reject any notion that there might be anything wrong with them, which is why it is so valuable to get a first-hand insight into the workings of a narc’s mind).
Vankin explains that as a result of some sort of an early emotional trauma, the narcissist subconsciously comes to a conclusion that they are faulty, unlovable and unworthy. This happens when the child is very young. As a result, the child essentially rejects his or her true self, cuts it off and replaces it with a construct – a false self that he believes is perfect, infallible, special. The problem is that because this false self is cut off from the person’s core, it needs to be constantly fed energy from the outside or else it starts disintegrating – hence the narc’s addiction to narcissistic supply.
If supply runs short, the narc may fall into depression. If there is no supply in a longer term, the narc starts submerging into his internal injuries. But not being able to face them, because that would make him face his faultiness, which is something he dreads, he needs to eradicate the crisis by either overriding it with other addictions (narcs are frequently addicted to all sorts of things) or finding a new source supply.
I remember the narc I used to be involved with telling a story when, at some point in his twenties, he was suffering from ‘an existential crisis’ and contemplated suicide. The ‘existential crisis’ was miraculously resolved when he met a girl (a new source of supply).
A true depression is resolved from within. The person allows themselves to sink into their darkness, resolves internal conflicts and grows into a better, more whole version of themselves. Narcs can’t do that. They would brag about their depression but never really do any real inner work, growing and healing. They would emerge exactly the same as they were, as soon as the flow of supply had been restored. Just like a junkie – the withdrawal symptoms would disappear as soon as the narc regains access to the drug. The narc continues unchanged in his ways. But now he has a story to tell to his followers about the ‘hardships’ he endured.
How to stop handing over narcissistic supply?
Narcissists’ dependence on supply is their weakness. Narcissists’ dependence on the supply gives power to the people who are the source of supply. However, this power is difficult to execute for two reasons.
When we are the source of positive supply, we are usually unaware, not awakened yet to the realities of narcissism. We are gullible, we ourselves are trying to source quite a bit of energy from the outside and therefore we easily fall into the narc trap (beaming at the flattery, participating in the gossip, accepting the narc’s version of reality and his poor me the victim and the horrible crazy bitch story).
When we become the source of negative supply, we might be either emotionally attached to the narc or we are simply someone who has been targeted because our inherent reactivity caused by our early family conditioning. We are unaware of the working of the narcissist’s mind but we sense that this particular person is acting in some odd ways.
Even after we learn about narcissism and understand what is really going on here and how these people operate, it still might be tricky to stop the reactivity and the flow of supply towards the narc. Our primary family conditioning has primed as to be exactly that – a reactive emotional source of supply – and this pattern of behaviour is very powerful.
The general recommendation how to deal with narcissists is the so-called grey rock method. It’s essentially not reacting to the narcissist in any emotional way until he or she gets bored and focuses on someone else.
However, this is easier said than done. We are emotionally attached to them. We are still looking for the false self that we fell for. But that is nowhere to be found. The narc is now an enemy and is deliberately targeting our deepest triggers. Even if we manage not to react to the narcs’ behaviours, my experience is that they sense our internal discomfort and that in itself is enough for them to want to continue the game until they make us flip.
The only way to stop feeding narcs supply therefore really is to heal our triggers to the level that we have no internal emotional reaction to the narc anymore. (The work of Melanie Tonia Evans is an awesome resource on this journey).
The goal is for us to reach the stage where the narc has absolutely zero influence on what we do and how we feel. We don’t get angry about their provocation. We don’t get sad about their silent treatment. We don’t take their shaming and blaming personally. We understand that a narc is on the emotional level of a five-year-old and his actions are simply the acting out of that five-year-old (you know that flatmate that keeps using your shower gel even if you repeatedly ask them not to and keeps denying ever having done that despite the evidence).
Winning over a narc is about absolutely trusting our inner knowing, our gut and our truth. It’s the level of confidence when the narc’s attempts to make us doubt our reality and start thinking that maybe it really is us who is crazy or difficult no longer work.
For me, the journey still continues.
I am trying to look at them as objects to study. I am trying to observe them and watch their behaviours as a zoologist would watch animals in nature. I am simply trying to be curious about them without engaging with them. Like watching a tiger from a safe distance. Fascinating but you don’t want to become his diner.
One of the trickiest bits is coming to terms with the fact that there is no point in trying to persuade people who are under the narc’s influence about your version of reality. I am still working on that one. I am still uncovering anger at past passive aggressive attacks on myself from various narcs, especially those in my family. I still have to remind myself to disengage from the narc’s followers and let them learn their lessons in their own time.
Confidence and the real immunity against narcs is when you can just say “alright, so you think that I am crazy because I didn’t like this or that. Well, just keep thinking that. Maybe I don’t need you in my life.”
And you move on and don’t mind.
Why do we need to stop handing over all sorts of supply to narcissists?
There is a higher purpose in learning to understand narcissism and stopping the provision of narcissistic supply. It’s not just about our personal boundaries and happy lives.
If enough people heal sufficiently and become aware of the quirks of narcissism, narcissism will be eradicated. No one would voluntarily want to feed the monsters since people would acknowledge how terribly dangerous they are.
I personally do believe that narcissism is the core of all the evil in the world. No matter how altruistic, kind and loving they may present themselves to their followers, narcissists lack empathy. That’s what defines them. Narcissists don’t have conscience because their brain is wired to blame others. Their brain is wired to deflect responsibility. This strange brain wiring allows them to pretend to be super-kind on one hand, while acting in mean and abusive ways towards those they designated as deserving punishment.
Here are a few examples of how the narc’s mind operates.
The narc I was involved with used to tell a story from when he was five years old and kicked a girl in the kindergarten in the crotch. At the age of 30, he was still laughing about it and saying that the five-year old girl deserved it because she was a bitch. There were many other bitches deserving bad treatment in his world.
In my family of origin, I would get blamed for the fact that my father was emotionally abusing me when I was in me early teens. I, as a twelve year-old, deserved to be told that I should die and that I am a loser, by an adult man because, guess what, I was difficult and not treating him nicely. Until today my family would engage in this victim blaming, even telling me that I am making things up, when I bring up some stuff from the past.
Do you see the pattern? They deserve it! The victims deserve to be treated like this. Sounds a bit like Hitler, right? The Jews – they deserved it! They deserved it all, the camps, the transports, the gas chambers. And it’s obviously not just the Jews and Hitler. The blacks deserved to be treated like animals. The opponents of the Catholic Church deserved to burn at stakes. The list can go on forever.
The absolute lack of empathy with the victim, the rationalisation of the abusive action, the victim blaming – this is in heart of all the evil in this world. And all these are symptoms of pathological narcissism.
Now you see why I think eradicating narcissism is the most important thing if the world is ever to become a better place. I want to give credit where credit is due. The amazing narcissistic abuse recovery guru Melanie Tonia Evans has written about this before me.
We are fortunate enough that we live in an era when we do have choices. We are not those accused by the Spanish inquisition of witchcraft and heresy.
Next time you feel triggered by someone’s insane behaviour, instead of explaining yourself, instead of trying to make them acknowledge their fault, just look within. Focus on the difficult feelings. Remember that the narc is an emotional five-year-old and the only power he has over you is the power you give him.